Myth-Busting on Proposed Single-Use Products Bylaw
Several items which appeared in the Fort Frances Times and Daily Bulletin over the past week contained some misleading information about the scope of the proposed bylaw to regulate single-use plastic bags and other harmful single-use products.
I know that was not the newspaper’s intention, but I fear it has led to confusion in the community that needs to be addressed.
First, I want to be clear that this effort is entirely transparent and is following the usual council process. The text of the bylaw has been publicly available since it was drafted and submitted to the town clerk and local media last week. It has also been published online several times, in several locations, including in council’s agenda package for November 25.
My remarks to the Fort Frances Chamber of Commerce general meeting, where the proposal was first introduced, have also been published in full on my website and social media, and reported in the media. You can read my remarks here and the bylaw itself (in its current form) here.
I would like to take this opportunity to separate fact from fiction, and clarify the details which may have left some mistaken impressions. Here are answers to the top 10 questions I have seen online:
1. What does the proposed bylaw ban?
The bylaw, as currently drafted, only restricts the distribution of 3 things by businesses:
single-use plastic bags at checkouts, foam food containers that are used to package prepared foods and beverages (such as styrofoam cups and takeout containers), andsingle-use plastic straws that are given out individually with beverages (more on this below).
There is absolutely no ban on the sale of these products. You will still be able to purchase packages of plastic garbage bags, boxes of plastic drinking straws, and packages of styrofoam coffee cups (though I hope you will begin to look at alternatives). There is also no ban on plastic cups.
2. What are people going to use to pack their groceries or other purchases in?
Many consumers are already voluntarily taking reusable bags to the store with them. But starting in 2021, the rest of us will have to step up too.
Retailers will have to decide what alternatives they wish to provide. Paper bags and empty boxes are an obvious choice for many (in fact, some local retailers are already phasing out plastic in favour of paper, and will do so before this bylaw would even take effect).
Reusable bags are also allowed. A reusable bag is defined as a bag with handles that is designed to be used multiple times and is capable of being washed or disinfected. This definition is drawn from legislation passed by the province of Nova Scotia, and is deliberately broad in order to allow a wide range of alternatives for consumers and businesses.
3. Are there any exceptions to the ban on single-use plastic bags?
Yes. The bylaw contains a list of exceptions where single-use plastic bags are permitted. The list is drawn from provincial legislation in Nova Scotia, as well as a bylaw in Thompson, Manitoba. The exceptions include what you might expect - such as the use of single-use plastic bags for packaging loose produce or candy, or for disposing of pet waste.
4. What businesses does the bylaw apply to?
The proposed bylaw applies to all businesses operating in Fort Frances, including the ‘big box’ retailers. Everyone will be participating on equal footing. (Of note, the definition of “Business” in the current version of the bylaw excludes charities.)
5. Some people living with disabilities or other conditions need plastic straws in order to dine out. Will these be available to them?
I am committed to supporting the full participation of people of all abilities in our community. While reusable straws are widely available for sale, it is clear that the need to purchase them, however inexpensive they may appear, creates a barrier for some.
For that reason, I will bring a small amendment to committee next week which, if adopted, will create an exception in the bylaw so that plastic straws can be made available on request. This will help achieve our goal of reducing their use and disposal, while allowing those who need them for any reason to have access. It will also ensure that our bylaw and local businesses remain in step with their accessibility and human rights obligations.
(For the record, our local A&W was already using paper straws before it closed, and many local restaurants have stopped providing straws unless requested!)
6. When will these new rules come into effect?
The bylaw, if passed in its current form, will take effect on January 1, 2021 so that local businesses and consumers have a year to adapt and make use of any existing inventories.
7. What will the town do to inform the community of these new rules?
As with many bylaws and waste management initiatives, I anticipate that if the bylaw is passed, the town will release communications materials in 2020 to make sure residents and local businesses are equipped to make this transition.
8. Have you consulted with local businesses and other organizations?
Yes. I have been talking to local stakeholders about this for over 6 months. Among those, I have met with the BIA and the Chamber of Commerce on 3 occasions. In addition, I have reached out to various other local stakeholders – including the outdoor education class at the high school and local organizations focused on environmentalism and conservation. No one, in all of my meetings and outreach, has expressed any significant criticism of these measures. In fact, many have expressed a desire to do far more.
9. What if the provincial or federal government imposes their own ban on these products?
The bylaw contains a clause which requires it to be brought back before council for reconsideration in the event that another level of government puts in place a regulation of similar effect. This way, we will avoid living under two sets of rules which accomplish the same thing. While single-use plastics figured largely in the federal Liberal platform, under a minority Parliament there is no guarantee any action will be taken.
10. What can I do if I have questions or concerns?
The bylaw is following standard council procedures, just like any other request we receive. It will be considered by the Operations & Facilities and Planning & Development executive committees during their next meeting, and their recommendation will return to council.
At this time, it is expected that the bylaw will be up for a vote at our council meeting on December 9. If passed in its current form, the bylaw will not come into effect until January 1, 2021.